Club America drew 1-1 with the MLS’s Montreal Impact in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final on Wednesday night. It was a good result for the Canadians, who are seeking to become the first MLS side to win the competition. Which team should be considered favorites ahead of the second leg next week?
On paper, Montreal are the MLS’s worst side. They finished the 2014 season in last place in both the Eastern Conference and the combined table, winning just six games and ending on a mere 28 points. 2015 has seen a similar story – they once again find themselves in last place in both tables with only two points from their four games. Club America are the opposite; they were imperious in their 2014 Apertura win, and despite a rockier 2015 they are still amongst the favorites for the Clausura title.
Montreal have been given a major boost by the MLS schedulers – they were afforded last weekend off while America were destroyed 4-0 by Queretaro, and they will also be given this weekend off while America must travel to Guadalajara on Sunday night for the Mexican Super Clasico. It leaves boss Gustavo Matosas with a selection headache – Chivas are not the pushovers that they’ve been for the last three years, so does he play his first team and risk injuries and fatigue for the Montreal game, or play a reserve side and risk a loss that could potentially see them drop out of the top eight Liguilla spots with just two games remaining?
Montreal Impact manager Frank Klopas is not without his own selection problems – ‘keeper Evan Bush, who was outstanding in the first leg, is suspended and will be replaced by John Smits, a NASL goalie who only joined Montreal on a short-term loan deal last week. Defensive rock Hassoun Camara is also a doubt after he was forced to leave the pitch on a stretcher last night.
On the evidence of the first leg there will only be one winner. Club America dominated the game, firing off 22 shots to Montreal’s two and forcing Bush into making ten saves. They had 16 corners compared to Montreal’s two, had 66 percent of the possession, and spent most of the second half camped in the Canadians half. Whilst it can be argued they were lucky to still have ten men on the pitch after Oswaldo Martinez’s foul, they were also desperately unlucky to see a legitimate goal ruled out for offside and to not be given a penalty for what looked like a clear handball.
You should never underestimate a fairy-tale in football, however, as Liverpool, Porto, Greece, and countless others will testify. Montreal’s run to the final has seen them sneak through the quarter-final on away goals in the dying moments against Pachuca, and just about hold on for a second away goals win in the semi-final against Alajuelense. With an away goal now in the bag, you wouldn’t bet against them doing it again.
Whoever wins, it’s sure to be a thrilling game in a sold-out Olympic Stadium next Wednesday.